About this blog

In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire ... The A-Team.

This was the introduction to one of the great TV series of the eighties. The purpose of this blog is to build up the definitive episode guide to the show across its five seasons which ran from 1983 to 1987. So this isn't too much of a burden, I'm intending to watch a couple of episodes a week and given that there were around 100 episodes made during its run, this will turn into a year-long project!

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Bad Time on the Border s2ep4

co-starring: Jack Ging as Lieutenant Taggart, Dennis Lipscomb as Prince, Joey Aresco as Presley, David Graf as Cooper, Jeffrey Josephson as Henchman, Marla Heasley as Cherise
Written by Richard Christian Matheson, Thomas Szollosi
Directed by Bruce Kessler

The team help a young girl whose ill mother is being held by a gang of people smugglers targeting Mexicans trying to start a new life across the border.

An OK if fairly standard episode, most notable for a series of distractions and an overall feeling of familiarity. One element of familiarity comes in the first reappearance of a guest star, in this case Jack Ging who played the crooked SWAT team leader in season one’s “A Small and Deadly War” and here plays a crooked border patrol guard. The location where the Mexican immigrants are held is also rather familiar, as if the gang have taken over the remnants of the camp left behind by the “Children of Jamestown”.

In terms of distractions, Marla Heasley (who would co-star as reporter Tawnia Baker in episodes 27 to 34) appears as a girl in a bikini during the scenes on in the yacht harbour. Having said that, Heasley is beaten in the glamour stakes by an even more distracting Melinda Culea who gets dressed up in a fetching blue number to entrap one of the bad guys. It is a little jarring to see David Graf (Police Academy's Tackleberry) in a serious role and there’s also a glaring continuity error in which BA's appearance (particularly his hair) is completely different in the first yacht scene than in the rest the show.

The episode seems to have a rather restricted budget in terms of its sets, the rather under-dressed bar being the most noticeable example of cost-cutting. Murdock's companion this time around is his bug “Herman” (named after “Moby Dick” author Herman Melville) but Schultz's best moment is when he talks his way into borrowing a helicopter, managing to get a long speech out in one take. The episode is perhaps most notable for the moment used in the later season credits in which an armor-plated car bursts out of the back of a delivery truck. It's a classic moment that kicks off an excellent and explosive final set-piece which redeems the somewhat patchy nature of what went before it. 8/10.

The Only Church in Town s2ep3

co-starring: Markie Post as Leslie Becktall/Sister Teresa, Ismael Carlo as Salvador, Beau Starr as Henchman, Deborah Shelton as Gayle, Don Knight as Gibbons, Elizabeth Hoffman as Mother Superior
Written by Babs Greyhosky
Directed by Christian I. Nyby II

Face “hires” the team to help his high school sweetheart who is now a nun in an orphanage in Ecuador that has been over-run by bandits.

Another solid episode from writer Greyhosky, unremarkable in terms of its action but excellent in the way it deals with the relationship between Face and Leslie. This is one of Benedict's strongest episodes in any season. The scene on the plane in which Face speaks to Amy about his high school romance with Leslie is one of his best and the subsequent scenes with Markie Post are both touching and believable. Greyhosky always wrote good dialogue, in evidence here when Murdock refers to Leslie leaving Face to become a nun, (“Boy, when they said she'd run off with another guy they weren't kidding!”). There's also a great moment when the team respond to BA's moans about being drugged and flown to Ecuador with a collective “Be Quiet!”.

The later stages of the episode are more standard and less interesting as the team head off the bandits only for them to return in greater numbers. The action isn’t badly staged but there are so many good moments in the first half (including a scene in Face’s apartment that highlights the camaraderie among the team) that the second half suffers in comparison. It’s not an episode that will appeal to every fan but being very relationship-driven makes it different from the norm and that is what makes it memorable. Besides, any episode that has Murdock dressed as a nun can't be all bad. 8/10.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Recipe for Heavy Bread s2ep2

co-starring: Marjoe Gortner as Tom Anderson, John Fujioka as General Chow, Michael Alldredge as Don, Mako as Lin Duk Coo, Liam Sullivan as Dr Peters
Written by Stephen J Cannell
Directed by Bernard McEveety

The team discover the cook from a Vietcong prison camp they were held in is working in a Los Angeles restaurant.

Something of a disappointment considering it was written by co-creator Cannell, this is a watchable but unremarkable episode that suffers from some serious pacing issues before the mid-point and never really recovers. The start is fine with the team witnessing Lin Duk Coo’s kidnap and then staging an assault on the warehouse where he is being held. It’s an excellent set piece (culminating in Murdock riding on the roof of the A-Team van) but the rest of the episode fails to live up to this promising start.

Face is posing as an interior decorator to gain access to an expensive apartment where the team are hiding out but the scenes of him having to explain the presence of the rest of the group eventually become repetitive. In addition, Murdock's obsession with golf balls and their liberation is not one of his more interesting fixations and could easily have been cut entirely with no loss.

Like a lot of Cannell episodes, the A-Team's military background is central to the story but the attempts to make serious points don't always come off and the good humour that plays a key part in all the best episodes is mainly absent here. The overall effect is interesting at best, heavy-going at worst and when the end comes it does so suddenly and rather too easily. The final action sequence is impressive though, a well-filmed chase featuring Murdock piloting a helicopter down a city street with the rest of the team in pursuit. 6/10.

Diamonds 'n' Dust s2ep1

co-starring: Albert Salmi as Jonathan Fletcher, Kirsten Meadows as Toby Griffin, Michael Halsey as Alan Scheckter, Sam Scarber as Landers
Written by Patrick Hasburgh
Directed by Ron Satlof

The team fly to South Africa to transport dynamite to a diamond mine.

A very positive start to the second season, this is an entertaining and well-written tale with a strong storyline and much to enjoy. It’s good to see the team out in the open for almost the entirety of the episode, not in Africa obviously but at least director Satlof doesn’t overdo the use of jungle stock footage. There’s a good overall balance at work here, the comedy and set-up of the first half making way for plenty of action in the second. Giving Murdock a cuddly bear called Bogie (after “African Queen” star Humphrey Bogart) is almost too silly but Schultz gets away with it, especially given a great gag after the bear has been hit in a firefight. Pulling out the stuffing, Murdock declares, “I don't think Bogie's gonna make it”.

The action follows a fairly standard pattern (initial fistfight, subsequent gun battle, final confrontation) but is well-executed and helps maintain a strong pace. There’s a rather unnecessary sequence in which BA and Face climb a rockface with dynamite strapped to their back. Why didn’t they just tie the dynamite to the bottom of the rope, all climb the rockface and then pull the dynamite up to the top?

Beyond the action, there’s plenty of strong dialogue (including a good moment between BA and Toby) as well as a noticeable sense of camaraderie among the cast that was often lacking in later seasons. The episode may well be best remembered for a scene in which Murdock poses as an English military officer and slates a store owner for not being British enough (“No kippers, no English herring bone tweed, no meat pies, no Rolls Royce petrol caps, no original pressings of Hey Jude. You sir, are a miserable excuse for a shopkeep!”).

The only one not to come out of the episode particularly well is Amy who appears so infrequently and gets so few lines, you almost forget she is in the show. Too often, Amy’s role in an episode was limited to general exposition and vague assistance, a role that could easily be filled by the client. As the season progressed, Amy’s part in proceedings became increasingly redundant and unnecessary. The writing was already on the wall in this season opener and Culea would feature in only nine further episodes before being written out and replaced by Marla Heasley who would appear in eight episodes before suffering a similar fate. 9/10.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

A Nice Place to Visit s1ep13

co-starring: Joanna Kerns as Trish Brenner, Burton Gilliam as Sheriff Jeff, Ted Markland as Logan Watkins, Kelbe Nugent as Lianne, Sandy Ward as Lianne's Father, Robert F Lyons as Harold Watkins, Don Stroud as Deke Watkins, M.C. Gainey as C.W. Watkins
Written by Frank Lupo
Directed by Bernard McEveety

Arriving in a small town for the funeral of former army colleague Ray Brenner, the team find they are given a hostile welcome.

One of the more serious A-Team episodes, this is also notable for being one of the more believable as far as the threat from the gang in control of the town is concerned. The A-Team van is run off the road at one point and there is a real sense of menace when Trish and Amy are forced to defend themselves against two men trying to break into Trish’s house.

Among the strong supporting cast, Kerns is excellent as Ray’s widow, as is Lyons as the garage attendant and fans of “Blazing Saddles” will recognize Gilliam who plays the town’s sheriff. The start is a little strange, using chase footage from “The Rabbit that Ate Las Vegas” to pad out the running time and stop the end credits being even longer than they already are. There is also an odd moment when the team borrow a car from an elderly couple but a stand-in is playing Face and he tries to hide himself from view as best he can.

The level of tension is kept high throughout and this is also one of the few episodes to mention the Vietnam War in detail as the team remember their fallen comrade over documentary and film footage. There is an over-riding message about not forgetting the sacrifices made by Vietnam veterans but also an underlying one about the way veterans were often treated on their return from the conflict. It’s a brave move for what was considered to be a standard action series and a kick-in-the-face to anyone who says The A-Team was just a kids’ show.

The series had a habit of finishing seasons with more serious episodes such as “Curtain Call” (in which Murdock was shot) and “The Sound of Thunder”, which was also written by Lupo and takes some of the issues touched upon here to the next level. This is a genuinely great episode, one which may have washed over you when you were younger (too much talking and all that) but viewed now you realise it is exceptionally well-handled. 10/10.

The Beast from the Belly of a Boeing s1ep12

co-starring: Andrew Robinson as Jackson, Alan Stock as Thomas, Jim McKrell as Larry Hertzog, Michael Swan as Trigg, Jesse D. Goins as Phillips
Written by Patrick Hasburgh
Directed by Ron Satlof

The team are hired to get back control of a plane that has been hijacked.

A solid first season episode, engrossing enough as far as it goes but rather flat in the opening stages and relying too much on familiar plane drama clich├ęs to be one of the A-Team greats. It is best remembered for the classic scene in which BA goes into a trance after getting caught in the baggage hold as the plane takes off (Murdock: ”BA, just try to breathe deep. OK, forget deep and just try to breathe”). The rest is perfectly watchable and put together with good humour but the progression of the plot in the later stages follows a standard path that was old hat when it was used back in 1975 in the film “Airport”. (Incidentally, the shot of the 747 'reaching' the airport lounge is taken from “Airport” which was also made by Universal).

Although the routine plot isn’t an asset, the lighter moments carry the episode through with Murdock suddenly appearing when Face goes to the toilet, Hannibal having moustache issues and a duet of “You Are My Sunshine” performed by Face and Hannibal. There’s a strange cut when Murdock knocks out one of the hijackers, suggesting the scene was changed to having him hit the guard in the stomach with a spanner rather than on the head as originally filmed. Not exactly shocking violence but maybe Universal were worried about copycat spanner attacks by young fans of the show?! Murdock is declared sane and released from his psychiatric unit at the start of the episode, a subplot which is touched upon throughout but pays off well in the final scene. 8/10.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Till Death Do Us Part s1ep11

co-starring: John Ericson as Calvin Cutter, Janice Heiden as Jacqueline Taylor, Jim Antonio as Sheriff Gillis, Noble Willingham as Pete
Written by Babs Greyhosky, Frank Lupo
Directed by Guy Magar

The team are hired to rescue southern belle Jackie Taylor who is being forced to marry so the husband-to-be, Calvin Cutter, can get his hands on her fortune.

One of the high points of the first season, this is one of the most enjoyable of all A-Team episodes, keeping the gang together for most of the running time and being all the better for it. A terrific blend of action and comedy, this is superbly written by the ever-reliable Greyhosky and is played to the hilt by a cast on top form.

It is certainly one of Schltz's best episodes, one in which he eats the shaving foam from the fake cake, dresses up in the bridal gown and then writes a letter to apologise for standing the groom up at the altar. Benedict has some funny scenes in which he is made very uncomfortable by Hannibal's way of putting a stop to Cutter's plan and there's also one of the all-time great comic moments when BA is shown smiling into camera during Murdock's alternate wedding video.

The episode hits the ground running with only two short scenes before the Team arrive at the wedding and anarchy ensues. There's a lot squeezed into 45 minutes, culminating in a tense helicopter chase which is as exciting as any A-Team action sequence. The action memorably pauses halfway through when the chopper gets low on fuel and Murdock is forced to land at a gas station (“Fill her up, high octane”). Any negative points? Well, as the bride who doesn't want to be, Heiden's southern drawl is rather put-on but that can't detract from one of the A-Team classics. Brilliant. 10/10.

One More Time s1ep10

co-starring: Ed Grover as Major Briggs, Alan Fudge as Mr Perry, Nico Minardos as Rashaad, William Lucking as Colonel Lynch, Warren J Kemmerling as General Ludlam, Amy Steel as Kathy Ludlam, Danny Wells as Film Director, Barbra Horan as Rhonda
Written by Frank Lupo, Patrick Hasburgh (story by Babs Greyhosky)
Directed by Arnold Laven

Hannibal, Face and BA are captured by the military and agree to go on a mission to rescue a General from a compound in Borneo.

Despite the forgettable title, this is one of the best first season episodes, perhaps a little untidy in the scripting with its patchwork nature but still full of classic A-Team moments. It all kicks off with an excellent chase sequence that begins when Face tells a girl, “Where would I possibly find a woman who could drag me away from you?”, only for Hannibal to appear in drag riding a motorcycle. Face rides as passenger as Hannibal attempts to evade the chasing Colonel Lynch and it is part of the fun that there is an obvious dummy on the back of the motorcycle during some of the jumps.

This episode marks the first appearance by Lucking as Colonel Lynch since the pilot and also his last before being replaced by Colonel Decker in season 2 (though Lynch did come back for one season 3 episode, “Showdown”). Look out for Dennis Haysbert (best known for his role as the President in "24") who has a one-scene role as a hospital orderly.

One of the highlights is BA being parachuted out of a plane while unconscious, a funny scene which was later lifted and used in the season 5 opener "Dishpan Man". There's a lot of fun as Amy and Murdock team up and go in pursuit of the rest of the team (Murdock thinks they should have nicknames and chooses Penny and Sky King). It's an episode full of good humour with Amy getting stuck in a tree after her parachute drop and an initial raid on the compound that ends up in the kitchen. Great fun. 9/10.

Friday, 2 July 2010

West Coast Turnaround s1ep9

co-starring: Stuart Whitman as Chuck Easterland, Michael Alldredge as Whitaker, Devon Ericson as Ellen Penhall, Robert Sampson as Joe Penhall, Tom McFadden as Sheriff Murphy, Tim Rossovich as Milt, Jim Boeke as Bill Mather
Written by Stephen J Cannell, Patrick Hasburgh (story by Babs Greyhosky)
Directed by Guy Magar

The A-Team help a farmer who is being stopped from taking his melons to market.

Another solid and enjoyable episode, notable for being the first of many in which the team help someone being forced out by the local bad guy who is after their business/land. This is very much an action-driven episode with an articulated lorry rolling on its side early on and a couple of exciting chase sequences towards the end. There are a number of memorable scenes including Hannibal's early disguise as a medical orderly (one of the few where he isn’t immediately recognisable) and Murdock writing his name on the side of a faked cop car (“I gotta paint it, I'm gonna sign it!”).

An aggrieved Amy gets to see her shiny new car turned into an armor-plated chase vehicle but the episode is perhaps best known for the “appearance” of Murdock's invisible dog Billy, a fan favourite and a source of many great gags. There’s a dramatic final set-piece in which watermelons are used as bombs (ridiculous I know but at least they aren’t cabbages!) and there’s an overall feeling of a series which, after “Holiday in the Hills” and this episode, has really found its niche. 9/10

Holiday in the Hills s1ep8

co-starring: Edward Winter as Mitchell Barnes, Philip Sterling as Grant Eldridge, Denise Galik as Louanne, John Perak as Captain Stewart, Bill McKinney as Clint, Micky Jones as Redneck
Written by Babs Greyhosky
Directed by Arnold Laven

Returning from a mission, the team crash in a forest surrounded by mountains and go up against a lynch mob.

A highly entertaining episode, this was the first written by Greyhosky who would go on to pen a number of the better episodes in the first two seasons including “Till Death Us Do Part” and “In Plane Sight”. There's a great opening to this one in which Hannibal, Face and BA have finished a mission in Guatemala and Murdock flies in to the rescue. It is one of the great A-Team set-pieces and works very much like a James Bond pre-title sequence. Indeed, the whole opening was lifted and used as a pre-title sequence in the last ever A-Team episode, “Without Reservations”.

As with all Greyhosky episodes, there is some great dialogue and interplay between the team which is relished by the cast. The scene in which the plane starts to go down is as funny a moment as you’ll find in any episode. This one of the key Murdock episodes that helped establish him as a fan favourite. He flies out of the forest in an ultralite built from parts of the downed plane and gets to use a number of different accents along the way (polite english: “By the way, would you mind awfully if I borrowed your shiny little chopper?”)

Film fans will note that the redneck lynchmob is led by none other than Bill McKinney who is best known for his unforgettable performance as a deranged backwaters mountain man in the classic 1972 film “Deliverance”. McKinney also starred in a number of movies with Clint Eastwood and his character name of Clint is a typical A-Team in-joke.

The only weak link comes from a unnecessary subplot in which Amy is followed around by a reporter who is working for the military in one of their many attempts to corner the team. Eldridge appears as Amy’s boss for second and final time and Winter is appropriately slimy as the reporter but these various scenes are not particularly interesting and only really serve to give Amy something to do. Still, the main story moves along at a brisk pace, there's lots of good humour throughout and the sense of camaraderie among the team has rarely been better represented. 9.5/10